He did what? Geoff Mack | Columns | Gassit Garage
From the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre to Macleay Street in Kings Cross, Geoff Mack had seen it all
When Albert Geoffrey McElhinney passed away on the Gold Coast in July 2017 few would have known he was one of the most-well travelled blokes in Australia. Born in Melbourne in 1922, Geoff – as he was known – spent the war years as an Aircraft Engineer in Borneo. Blessed with a fine voice and an ability to handle a guitar, he found himself entertaining the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan. Later, while working the club circuit in Germany he met his soulmate, English comedian Tabbi Francis; after which they spent a few happy years touring Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Their travels gave them a taste for even more exotic locations so when Geoff decided to return to his homeland they chose the overland route. And, to add some excitement, a motorcycle became the preferred conveyance. Geoff traded his Sunbeam solo in on a Panther 100, a 600cc single with a Canterbury sidecar large enough to carry their gear and, with the 1954 winter looming, they headed towards the Mediterranean.
While they experienced no problems with the electrics, the low-octane petrol in Croatia meant Geoff had to run the magneto on full retard, the fuel problems exacerbated by the needle constantly dropping out of the malfunctioning Amal carburettor. In eastern Turkey the roads deteriorated; and riding two-up with a fully-laden sidecar proved too much for the Panther’s swingarm. The bolts holding the rear springs sheared off while the sidecar body literally disintegrated. The problem was somewhat alleviated when all of their heavy tinned food was stolen; along with Geoff’s ‘going out’ clothes.
“They also pinched Tabbi’s outrageous stage costume,” recalled Geoff. “I don’t know what the hell they were going to do with that.”
Eventually Geoff and Tabbi made it to Columbo where Geoff fully dismantled the Panther and crated it for shipment to Fremantle. Amazingly, Australian Customs Officials allowed him to reassemble the bike in a shed on the docks before heading off to Kalgoorlie and the Nullarbor. Thirteen weeks and 13,000 kilometres later, they arrived in Sydney where, in those pre-television days, there was plenty of cabaret work for the enterprising couple.
“Everyone was going electric,” said Geoff. “And you can’t carry an amp on a bike, so I bought a Vanguard Panel Van.” The Panther was retired.
Needing a song to open the act, Geoff wrote a ditty about coming home.
“It’s great to be back in Sydney,” he’d open… “You ask me where I’ve been so settle back and listen. I’ll tell you exactly where I’ve been.” And the anthem <i>I’ve Been Everywhere<i> was born.
The song proved a lucky strike for one hit wonder <i>Lucky Starr<i>, but for Geoff it became a lifetime course in map reading and toponyms. A task that started in Tullamore and, after visiting 94 Aussie towns, finished in Wollondilly; before leaping across the ditch to Rotorua and Hokonui, crossing the Pacific to include Reno, Chicago, Kalamazoo and Kansas City, before heading to Westminster and Knightsbridge.
Over 130 versions have been recorded by luminaries as diverse as Homer Simpson and Johnny Cash and in countries such as Czechoslovakia and Finland, the royalties allowing Geoff and Tabbi to retire in Tamworth – Australia’s heart of country music; where the Panther still resides in the Tamworth Visitors Centre.
Geoff Mack and Tabbi Francis – overland to Australia and in Tamworth.
Words Peter Whitaker